Archive for July, 2011

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the great evangelists of the Church in America and a candidate for sainthood, once wrote the following:

“Every priest, when he goes before the Lord for judgment, will be asked, ‘Where are your children?’ The vocation of the priest is primarily to beget souls in Christ.”

This is a profound statement. The priest, though not a father by means of physical generation, is most definitely called to be a father by spiritual generation. By his preaching, teaching and example, the priest is to bring to birth in Christ immortal souls. What a privilege! What a solemn responsibility! But although he is given this privilege and responsibility in a unique and particularly vital way, the priest is not alone in being called to beget souls for the Lord. Listen to the words of Christ himself:

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and     bear fruit that will remain (John 15:16).”

Think hard on those words. Just as the Lord has appointed me to bear fruit (beget souls) through the priesthood, so has he called you, through your state in life, to do the same. For his Gospel to spread and for his Kingdom to flourish, Jesus Christ chooses to “need” you and me. Yes we are sinners, yes we may be afraid and uncertain, yes our gifts may seem insignificant, but none of that matters. God has chosen me and he has chosen you. Amazing!

If you are a high school kid who plays in the band and tries to get to church every Sunday, you have been chosen to bring souls to Christ. If you are a high school kid who has no musical talent whatsoever and rarely gets to church, still you are called to bring souls to birth in Christ (so get to church). If you are a college student trying to survive financially, socially and academically, “bringing friends to know Jesus” is also on your list of responsibilities. If you are a young adult basking in the glow of your first real job, bringing others to Christ should be a part of your life too. If you are a spouse and parent, stretched to the limit in every way possible, you are nonetheless called to be a begetter of Christ. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you are called to bear fruit for God’s Kingdom.

Fr. Larry Richards often asks, “How many people have you brought to Christ?” Then he also asks, “And how many people have you brought to Satan?” You and I would do well to reflect on those questions ourselves. Am I indeed bringing others to Christ by who I am, what I say and what I do? Or am I bearing fruit for the kingdom of darkness?

What joy to bring a friend into the arms of Jesus! What fulfillment to help a lost soul find peace! What a humbling thought to realize that others may be in heaven because of our efforts to love Jesus! “I have chosen you,” says the Lord, “and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve


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Our diocese, the Catholic Diocese of Erie, has approximately 225,000 Catholics living within its borders. That’s kind of cool to think about. Let’s say (and these are very unscientific approximations here) that 20% of those Catholics are kids. That registers as 45,000 Catholic kids in our neck of the woods. Let’s go on further to guestimate that 25% of those kids are high school students. Now we’re talking 11,250 high school kids who happen to be Catholic and are currently living in the Diocese of Erie. 11,000+ kids (again, these figures are just coming out of my head, not a census report) means thousands of athletes, numerous really good musicians, hundreds who are studying dance, many who have been part of a school stage production in the last year, and quite a few who have taken SAT prep or other academic booster courses.

Since Jesus Christ is the center and source of our life as Catholics, and since all these kids we are talking about here are Catholics, then it must be that thousands are also involved in the “Jesus” events taking place in our diocese for high school students, right? Well, sadly, no. In fact, the figures are quite sobering. Given our numbers above and a close approximation of the actual number of high school students who have participated in recent youth ministry events within our diocese, here is what we find:

*34 students attended the 2011 Catholic Leadership Institute (a program for high school students having completed their freshman year) – that’s only .004% of eligible kids.

*Roughly 95 teens attended a TEC Retreat (To Encounter Christ) in the last year. Since high school juniors and seniors are eligible – that’s less than .02% of the eligible pool.

*Some 300 kids attended the High School Youth Rally in November 2010 – approximately .03%.

*In comparison to the thousands of Catholic kids out there, even the percentage who participate in youth groups, work camps, service missions or Sunday Mass is probably relatively small.

What about non-church activities? I would estimate that the percentage of high school students who are active in interscholastic athletics is above 50%. Those in band, choir or theater likely exceeds 25-30% of kids. And to their credit, it’s likely that close to half of high school kids or more belong to service or school organizations. Teenagers do participate . . . just not so much when it comes to public God events. Why?

No doubt, the reasons are many, but we can speculate. Some kids come from families where God and Church are not important or are rarely thought of. Youth ministry, in some parishes, is not a priority. Cultural realities certainly work to make Church activities appear unattractive in the eyes of many youth. The Church herself, through scandal or neglect, has alienated too many families and students. And some kids are simply too darn busy doing too many darn many things. But the number one reason that not more Catholic kids are participating in more Catholic events . . . is me. That’s right, me. And it’s you, as well.

If you or I are an adult who has been blessed to experience God’s mercy, beauty and power and to have fallen in love with Jesus Christ, then we are also an adult who has the responsibility to share that love of Christ with others – including the youth in our midst. We don’t have to be a youth minister, pastor or parent to do this (although those categories of adults have a particular privilege and responsibility to evangelize). Are we praying every day for the young people of the Erie Diocese? Are we sharing our faith with the kids in our life? Are we striving to live a morally upright life that reflects the goodness of God? Are we inviting the youth in our home, parish or school to take part in Catholic youth activities? Are we making prayer and “God talk” a part of our coaching, mentoring and teaching? Are we reaching out with the hands of Christ to help the young who are physically, spiritually and emotionally hurting?

If you are yourself a young person, you possess a tremendous capacity to influence your peers and bring them closer to Christ. Are you praying with them and for them? Are you actively involved in youth events and Church activities? Are you striving to know Christ and know more about him? Are you willing (and I know it takes courage) to publicly advertise your Christianity and Catholicity? Are you reaching out to assist the “uncool” in your midst? Are you loving Christ so much that you literally become Christ to others?

God loves us with a love that is so much more than we can ever imagine or desire. He is so incredibly good to us. He satisfies our every want. Those who are empty, hurting and alone – and many kids are empty, hurting and alone – need to know this. They need to know God. It is up to you and I to introduce them. Seriously, it is. And the numbers say that we are not doing as well as we could.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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For most of us, going to the dentist isn’t the most traumatic thing we ever experience, but neither is it a recreational activity we eagerly await. Going to the dentist is . . . well . . . going to the dentist. We know that we have to do it and we do it. My dentist as a kid was Dr. Black. He was a nice guy. His wife, who served as the hygienist, was nice too. Still, the best part about a trip to Dr. Black’s office was the “treasure chest.” The treasure chest was a pirate-ship looking thing that was filled with kid toys. When your time in the chair was finished, Mrs. Black made a big production of taking you to the chest and inviting you to choose a treasure. It was great. Of course, I always chose the best looking, most colorful and most fascinating toy. Why in the world would you want something broken or dull?

But as the years have gone by, I’ve come to realize that in the treasure chest of life – God’s treasure chest – sometimes the most meaningful gifts are not the most golden and glittery. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, the greatest treasures are those that come in broken and unattractive packaging. The greatest treasures often are disguised as the greatest trials. And the greatest treasures leave us not with a toy to be played with for a few days and then discarded, but with lessons and heart-scars that strengthen our humanity and deepen our love.

Remember that as Christians we are constantly being conformed to Christ himself. St. Paul describes it as “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus (2Cor4:10).” But why do we carry about his dying? “So that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh (2Cor4:11).” In other words, those events and struggles that at first glance may seem to be undesirable burdens, are in fact treasures offered to us from the very hand of God. The cross of Christ is the greatest example of this. An instrument of punishment and death was transformed by the power of God’s love into a means of redemption and new life. That is what God does. He transforms our darkness and difficulty into light and love. With God, there is always hope.

Are you struggling today? Are the difficulties of life making you question God’s providence or concern? Maybe, your brokenness is an opportunity for needed change. Maybe, your trial is being transformed into triumph. Of course, carrying the cross is never easy. Sometimes it’s weight seems unbearable. But we never carry the cross alone. Christ himself is always with us. And there is no greater treasure than the nearness of the Lord and his love.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Seeing is Believing?

In the course of my life, I’ve seen a lot of cool animals in the wild. Certainly, there have been the standard (at least for our area) deer, hawk and possum sightings. About a half dozen times or more I’ve seen black bears. My brother and I stopped on the road once to observe the ugliest/coolest turkey vulture ever. While in the service, I saw many whales, bald eagles and dolphins. Running at Presque Isle State Park one sunny afternoon, a quite live – and stealthy – beaver nearly sent me into cardiac arrhythmia. On a few lucky occasions, a fox has crossed my path. And to these animal sightings I could add alligators on the Savannah River, an owl sitting on the flag pole of St. Mark Seminary, and even a pesky chipmunk scurrying crazy-minded through the St. Jude rectory. But, sadly, I have never seen a Sasquatch.

Because I have not seen a Bigfoot, does that mean they don’t exist?

Certainly, being endowed with the wonderful gifts of sense perception, we find it easier to believe in the existence of something when we have seen, heard, touched, tasted or smelled it. For example, I may not always see the sheep farm along the side of the highway, but on a brutally hot summer’s day, my nose sure tells me that it’s there. But since God has given us rational minds to go along with our senses, many times we do, literally, believe without seeing. I’ve never actually seen electricity, dark matter, love or the Tooth Fairy, but I believe in them just the same (oh come on, like you don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, too). What we cannot observe with our senses, we can still know with our reason. So do Sasquatches really exist? Maybe they do.

For some people, believing in God is somewhat like believing in Bigfoot. They really, really want to see him, hear him, smell him – believe in him – but they just haven’t found enough convincing evidence. And so their hearts remain restless and uneasy. Their search continues.

Many of us have been blessed to experience God in different ways. We believe. We’ve seen God in an act of love, we’ve heard his voice in the depths of our hearts, or we’ve felt his presence in the midst of a burden. Faith pushes us onward when we do not immediately sense God’s nearness. We believe and we are blessed. In thanksgiving for that blessing, let us pray for those who do not believe in God or who struggle to believe in God. Certainly, in our world, belief is not easy. We could judge those who seem to have rejected or turned away from God, but praying for them is a far greater thing. And in a real leap of faith, we could also love them. Maybe that is what they need to become believers. Whatever the case, God cares for nonbelievers as much as for us believers. His love goes out to all.

And as far as Sasquatch is concerned . . .

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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